Metro Continues to Expand TAP Program. Complaints Still Common

It seems that every time that Streetsblog takes a moment to discuss the Transit Access Pass (TAP) Program, it’s because someone is complaining about it. From its initial rollout, the program to provide fare cards that could be used as monthly passes on Metro and other local carriers, or put simply provide a universal fare card for the Southland and its many transit operators has been under fire.  Given that TAP is finding its way back in the news, now seemed a good time to check back in with the program.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran another editorial, its second in six months, blasting the program.

I think we've said enough about the fare gates, but the reality is that in the public's mind TAP and the fare gates will always be linked. Photo: ##

Originally, the idea was that people would get TAP cards, and the gates would only open when you held your card up to a reader. But coordinating that system with other regional transit networks, particularly the Metrolink trains, has proven impossible. And there are a host of other problems, such as coming up with paper single-trip passes that can be bought at stations and read at the gates. You can learn more about the mess by reading our August editorial. Back then, MTA officials insisted they’d have many of the bugs worked out by the end of the year.

When I asked Matt Raymond, who is both head of the TAP program and the head of Metro’s communications division, if he had any issues with the Times’ opinion piece, the response was only that you can indeed buy day passes with a TAP card, if you already have a cash purse.

And that’s one of the major rubs people have with the program.  After literally years of implementation, it is still difficult to buy a “cash purse” from Metro so that you can buy single trip or day passes to be loaded on to a TAP card.  Some Metro rail stations have machines where “cash purses” can be bought and there are another half dozen or so municipal operators who make it easy to buy renewable purses, so that a TAP card can function as a sort of transit debit card.

According to Raymond, Metro is working on bringing a “cash purse” system to all corners of the transit agency, as that’s a key part of creating a seamless transit pass for the entire region.  However, as Metro is rolling out the cash purse option, the agency is not properly training its bus drivers how to accept the pass.  A reader, who requested and was granted anonymity for work related reasons, tells the following story.

I have been using the Cash Purse on Metro for a few years and out of the necessity of taking the 439 Express downtown learned how to get the extra Express fare from the Cash Purse.  When I tapped on the 439 fare box,  It asks “ZONE?” then all the driver needs to hit is 1 for a normal fare, 2  for a fare plus zone 1 and 3 for normal fare plus zone 2.  Another poster on the Transit Coalition boards says if the driver presses 5 on their console before you tap then the transaction will work as well.

The problem is Metro is rolling out these cash purse cards and not properly training the drivers how to deal with them. As a rider who knows how the cards should work it is frustrating since I never know if I’m gong to get a driver who knows what they are doing, or who’s willing to work with me to learn or is somewhat belligerent to a passenger who is trying to teach the driver their job.

When I asked Raymond about this issue, he conceded that many drivers aren’t accustomed to working with the TAP cards having daily fares and that while memorandums have gone out on the issue, more work needs to be done.  When asked specifically if it would be part of driver retraining, he replied, “Absolutely.  It already is.”

However, issues with TAP cards working, or not, on Metro buses isn’t confined to Streetsblog readers.  Last week’s “Twitter Tuesday” column at The Source featured many tweets with people complaining about this very issue.  Amusingly, one of the tweets was from Fred Camino, the former Metro Rider writer who now writes the Twitter Tuesday feature at The Source.

So what’s next for the TAP program?  In addition to better training drivers about cash purses and making them more available to the general public, Raymond says that the program designed to transfer over existing Senior Passes to the TAP program has been successful, and now they’re on to converting student passes.  Another long-term problem is getting other agencies to accept the TAP program which has been problematic for a couple of reasons.

Some of them have to do with ego.  For example, Metrolink refuses to go over to Metro’s TAP system because Chief Customer Engagement Officer for Metrolink Robert Turnauckas wants to create his own branded RFID card, which may not be interoperable with Metro, because it is better for the branding of Metrolink.

Another issue, one which Raymond admits has been a problem for Metro as well, is that there isn’t faith amongst agencies in the revenue sharing between agencies.  Remember this comment, by Dan at the Big Blue Bus?

The reason Big Blue Bus and several other municipal operators are not on the TAP program is because there is a problem with the system that does not allow BBB to get paid for the ride if a TAP card is used. We will join TAP if this issue is resolved and in the meantime suggest you use a 13 Ride Pass which gives you 13 rides for the price of 12 or a 30 Day Pass when riding BBB so you don’t have to worry about having change.October 5, 2010 at 12:15 pm
I think most people can agree that for the TAP program to reach its potential, there have to be many transit agencies on board.  Every time an agency signs up for TAP, the pressure on the others only intensifies.  However, for everyone to have confidence in the program, Metro has to have the program work seamlessly on its own buses.  But regardless of the problems with the program, TAP is the best hope to one day have a regional transit card that works on all systems.

For my personal travels, there’s a race between Metro and the Expo Construction Authority.  Can Metro get the TAP program to the point that the Big Blue Bus uses it on its system in time for me to ride their bus to the Expo Line (Phase II) when it opens in my neck of the woods?

  • anty

    When I first started using a TAP pass 2 years ago I had a fun interaction with a bus driver who claimed to not hear my pass elicit the correct beep. I disagreed, but re-swiped my pass just in case. Of course then it came up as invalid. The bus driver demanded I pay the fare. I didn’t have fare on me because I had the pass. I insisted the TAP card had worked fine earlier in the day and asked the driver if the card had been properly read on the first pass, would it then read as invalid on a second consecutive swipe? At that point he insisted it had never worked but begrudgingly allowed me to ride the bus home, but not without making it clear I was fare cheat. Does Metro even bother to train their drivers on how these things work? Fun times! It’s a big reason why I’m wary to try the cash purse option until it becomes more common.

  • I have had the same issues with the 439. The last driver drove me to complain. He was rude and said that it was not his issue. I even sent out a complaint . that went nowhere the back and forth discussion was pointless, as they did not comprehend the issue even though i tried a couple different ways why it’s an issue.

    I have had experience with 6 different drivers on the same line over the course of two year, who didn’t know what to do. i had one driver out of all of them, since the cash purse function rolled out at Culver City, who was trained to do so. If it was that damn simple why no pass out a paper to the drivers who drive on lines with zones. I have just stopped using the 439 all together which it seems like they will be successful in canceling the line.

    The functionality of their web site,, is laughably limited. They only provide monthly passes to different transit agencies, yet, no cash purse option.

  • Erik G.

    Stop calling them “fare gates”. Those are TURNSTILES!

    If they were fare gates they could be propped/locked/retracted in the open position and LA Metro’s regular users would not get to watch or be held up as infrequent users rub their paper tickets against the TAP reader trying to register something, anything, on the Windows-based turnstile display.

  • Erik G.

    Stella and Anty:

    So, after ten years of development, LA Metro and CUBIC have not bothered to make there be a separate tone/buzz/beep for, on the one-hand an invalid pass and on the other hand a so-called “passback”?


  • Erik G.

    From Damien’s excellent post:

    “Some of them have to do with ego. For example, Metrolink refuses to go over to Metro’s TAP system because Chief Customer Engagement Officer for Metrolink Robert Turnauckas wants to create his own branded RFID card, which may not be interoperable with Metro, because it is better for the branding of Metrolink.”


    The Southern California Regional Rail Authority/”Metrolink” is made up of five “Member Agencies”:

    L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority,
    Orange County Transportation Authority,
    Riverside County Transportation Commission,
    San Bernardino Associated Governments,
    Ventura County Transportation Commission

    Of these, only LA Metro and Ventura have RFID cards.

    Does anyone know if the Ventura card is a CUIBC production?

  • This is so idiotic. There are hundreds of cities and REGIONS around the world with successful implementation. Just call any of them and ask them what to do.

    Take the DC card. Works on metro, metrobus, circular (DC) bus, and all the local agencies running around. It even works 100 miles away in Baltimore. It was its own branding (charm card) but the technology is the same, so you can use either card on either system.

    And dont get me started on the absolute idiocy of the turnstiles.

  • The TAP card is a solution in search of a problem. We already have “cash purse” cards – ATM, Credit, Debit cards abound for all but the un-banked, below the poverty line, non-citizens in LA.

    Oh wait, that is more than half of Metro’s transit riders.

    The TAP program is a combination jobs act for Metro contractors (and staff) and an attempt to suck up the dollars of the poor into a Metro account that will probably be used to guarantee bond payments.

    The paycheck company I use does this too. They take money from my account and hold onto it for two or three days before releasing it to my employee. If they do this for a bunch of employers, they have a constant wad of cash that they can use to invest in all sort of other thing. They “float” along this way forever, skating on cash flow.

    How many of us use all the money on a “Gift Card”? Heck, how many of us use gift cards before they expire? The gift card is a brilliant sham that hides a taking of your dollars. The TAP is Metro’s “Gift Card” to grift more money off the poor.

    In America, we are used to this type of hustle and rip-off – when it is well executed. All the big brains of financial crime don’t work for the MTA, so we get the retarded cousins of the real criminals hacking together this stupid TAP system.

  • Cubic is responsible for the NYC Metro card, and while it has its problems (such as getting bent if one really works at mangling it) or possibly not working when wet (which is a distinct possibility there), it is nonetheless NOT a systemic failure.

    The failure is found in LACMTA, from CEO Art Leahy, to the answer-evader Matt Raymond (who proclaims to have no idea of what is going on in the Red Line despite the scaffolding that shores up the tens of thousands of dollars in light-bulb replacement every two years), to the darling nepotists (Jane, who as Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer Regional TAP Program and Services was responsible for conceiving the TAP card and program, and her husband Terry, who happens to be Metro’s Chief Financial Services Officer) and of course, the Metro spin doctors Rick Jager, Marc Littman, Dave Sotero and Steve Hymon.

    When the TAP card was implemented in April 2009, Metro failed in a fashion we have all come to know: shirk, lie and lay blame elsewhere. Whether it was the unprotected baskets full of still-sealed TAP cards sitting in Metro bus divisions (that operators were instructed to retrieve and replace cards as their shifts began/ended), the dearth (and oftentimes absence) of training regarding the UFS procedures, to the atrocious false criminal charges of embezzlement that Metro brought against several Metro operators (in collusion with Leahy’s USC buddy, LASD Sheriff Leroy Baca), the TAP program was, is and will most likely remain an astounding failure owing to nothing more than the incompetence of the above-named executives and Metro personnel.

    Then again, Art Leahy, in his “Message from the CEO” on page 7 of the LACMTA FY2010 budget, states: “Our customers – many of them poor and transit dependent…” That may tell us why Metro and its management is the way it is.

  • Great piece! I have been trying to work up a overview of TAP’s progress, and sadly I think there is still more story to tell/run down. For example “Raymond says that the program designed to transfer over existing Senior Passes to the TAP program has been successful:” glosses over what I have strong suspicions was a poorly handled transition–Raymond so far has offered me only one oblique quote on that aspect of it but I will be pursuing just what happened.

    “there isn’t faith amongst agencies in the revenue sharing between agencies” A report by Metro staff being presented to the Operations Committee this week on regional fare issues has a lot more detal about the back and forth over TAP between Metro and the munis

    What disturbned me when Vanessa Smith of Metro staff made a presentation at the January SO.CA.TA meeting on the status of TAP was how many fundamental things were “in progress” and “being worked on” after all these years and many millions spent. And now Metrolink may even not be on board? Oh, brother!

    Erik–you can e-mail VCTC to inquire about who the Go Ventura pass’s vendor was–

    Sure sounds like their pass does what ours was supposed to and is still struggling to become…

  • TAP Is a Waste

    Paper passes work fine. They’re cheap, they’re visible, they’re convenient, they’re simple, and the lost revenue to cheating was less than the disastrous costs of the TAP program.

    If you want to travel on multiple transit operator systems, use the EZ Pass – it’s paper, so no problems!

  • Ken Ruben

    I continue to use the Senior EZ Pass.
    EXCELLENT comments by Damien, Dana, and Erik G. all friends of mine.
    Thanks to all.

  • Metro needs to take a cue from the folks at Transport for London. Their Oystercard system works really well. Two points that make it very attractive are:

    – Single fares are generally cheaper with Oyster than cash
    – Oyster automatically works out the cheapest fare for all your journeys in one day so you’ll never pay more than the price of a Day Travelcard.

    Metro can’t seem to get the second point right. What is the point in a cash purse if it is not smart enough to know when you have hit the daypass limit. Metro’s solution is to buy a daypass on the card if you are going to make more than 4 trips. This is 2011 right. How hard is it to program the system to calculate this? Oh I forgot the METRO motto, “where mediocrity is well past our goals”

  • Bob

    As a regularly sporadic Metro user (3x per week or so) I like the ability to load money onto a Tap pass as buying a weekly pass isn’t the best value nor is carrying a pocket full of quarters very convenient.

    A few weeks ago I loaded up a Tap pass with $40 and it has worked quite well. Should last close to a month.

    Only had to explain it once to a curious bus driver who thought was pretty cool. Maybe Metro was late in sending out the memo?

  • I’ll admit that the going has been slow, but it is really worth all of the bitching, whining and moaning that I’ve been hearing?

    A few months ago, I couldn’t buy a TAP card at a subway station. Today I can. A few months ago, I couldn’t add cash to my TAP card except for at a few select locations. Those locations are still relatively limited, but at least I can do it at Union Station.

    If Metrolink can afford their own RFID card, as Robert Turnauckas suggests, they can afford to join TAP. What would be the point of having their own card? One card should be good enough for all of Los Angeles County, and even the rest of Metrolink’s service area.

    One card is good enough in Tokyo, where Suica is accepted by EVERYBODY. Of course, Suica has been around since 2001.

    The technology works just fine. It’s the people that are broken.

  • Yes, James, it is worth all the “bitching, whining and moaning” you have been hearing.

    Metro, formerly known as MTA and RTD, refused for decades to acknowledge the problems resultant of their system. Although the CEOs change, many of the upper management remain. It ain’t much, but it’s a small step that is forcing Metro to understand that the “bitching, whining and moaning” will no longer end up in the circular file. The very recent creation of The Source proves it, for it is an attempt to get ahead of the news as well as provide spin and bury other blogs’ search listings.

    And as it is indeed the “people that are broken”—which I made clear when stated that Cubic is widely used but somehow fails in Los Angeles owing to the very people (and others) that I named, then perhaps in time those people will take their incompetence elsewhere, or be coerced to do their jobs properly. After all, as times are changing, it may be that before too long it will not be just the “poor and transit-dependent” (as CEO Leahy put it in last year’s LACMTA Budget Report) that ride the rails and, increasingly, the busses.

    I only hope that all the “bitching, whining and moaning” will lead to action to rectify what is a lousy system run by people who purposely avoid it for reasons they refuse to divulge even as they admonish us to ride it.

  • Until the regional passes are tap cards that are recognized on the munis like Culver City Bus, Santa Monica Blue Bus and others, this Tap system is going to be very limited.

  • Erik G.


    Part of our moaning is due to the extreme length of time TAP has taken to implement and the mis-steps along the way.

    For example, you figure out if the agency that generates the most of your inter-agency transfers (SCRRA/Metrolink) will be converting to your RFID card (TAP) before your install TAP-only turnstiles at the station (Union Station, or actually any station) where they make that transfer. (You might also want to think about the needs of wheelchair users, those with limited motion with their limbs and bicycle riders when you design and place TAP readers and turnstiles, so that you are not going to be hit with an ADA lawsuit the day you lock the turnstiles.)

    If you admit that your agency serves a large portion of the Transit-Dependent and the “poor”, you make certain that the RFID card (TAP) is available at many places, including merchants and multiple customer service locations, before you make it mandatory for any of the fare transactions.

    And stay away from the “banking the un-banked” sleaze with the TAP Visa card (has anyone seen or gotten one?)-leave that to the loan-sharks in the check-cashing biz.

    You might also want to have a multi-lingual web page and a place where your customers can interact with a human being; Less-diverse cities like Seattle have this available to their users.

    You ought to and should be able to develop a regional fare policy years before even thinkng about an RFID card.

    And you better make damn sure you are not issuing the wrong fare-checking equipment to another agency (Foothill Transit who had then had to cancel all-door boarding on its new BRT service, killing efficiency, and offer refunds and apologies) if you then want remaining agencies to join your RFID card program. At least when LA Metro’s own fare-checking equipment failed on LA Metro, it snagged Fred Camino.

    Boston implemented their Charlie Card system in under three years. Why does it take LA Metro ten?

  • Ken Ruben

    I am curious as to whether anyone posting here (except yours truly) is planning to attend Mr. Leahy’s appearance at the TC Meeting next Tuesday.

    Then Randall, Erik G. and others (including yours truly) can ask Mr. Leahy some of the points that have been raised here.

    The last time Art Leahy showed up, the upstairs room at Phillipe’s was “packed.”

  • @ Erik G.: You make some valid points. These are worth bringing up.

    What I don’t understand is the degree of Luddite fear and anger that I’m sensing from a group which is ostensibly about CHANGE. Changes to the way we get around, changes to the way we think about traffic, transportation and the urban way of life, fundamental changes to the way that neighborhoods are designed.

    BTW, there are wider gates at the stations. These gates are actual fare gates and not turnstiles (or they will be, when Metro locks the gates). So Metro is thinking about their wheelchair patrons.

    Also, Boston’s situation doesn’t quite match Los Angeles, nor has implementation been quite as fast as you claim.

    The Charlie Card program started in 2006. Until very recently, it was only accepted on the MBTA, and largely just the subway and buses. Boston is lucky that the subway, commuter trains and buses are all under one roof. They are also just now getting municipal bus systems to get on board.

    Los Angeles’ situation is more similar to Tokyo’s. Instead of a dozen municipal bus systems, they have two subway operators, and a lot of private railways. Somehow, they managed to coordinate all of their different organizations. Los Angeles should be able to do the same with our little transit fiefdoms.

  • Ken Ruben

    James Fujita, although you were replying to my friend Erik G., I will again ask the same question to you:

    Do you plan or are you planning to hear Mr. Leahy at the TC Meeting at Philippe’s next Tuesday evening?

    Then you can ask many (or maybe some) of the points you have mentioned within this forum.

    The same for Erik, yours truly and anyone else reading or participating within this forum.

  • I won’t be able to attend the meeting, I work evenings.

    But I have been e-mailing comments to the MTA, Metrolink, etc. I figure that’s better than nothing if I want MTA to continue to improve the TAP, if I want Metrolink to accept TAP, etc.

    (And if I want the Little Tokyo station to have several entrances and Tokyo style subway signs. And so forth…. )

  • Erik G.


    I know Damien wanted us to stay away from the $46M unlockable Turnstiles, but you do know that not all entrances are equipped with the ADA gates, right? Pershing Square North as an example. Yes, I know that entrance has no elevator, but that’s no reason not to install a luggage-and-bicycle friendly faregate.

    Boston’s Charle Card started in 2006 and was in full use in the MBTA bus and subway (and whatever their Green Line is classified as) system by 2009, which by itself is bigger than LA Metro in terms of the number of stations and daily riders and possibly even in total transit vehicles (I’m not going to look it up right now). “Municipal” operators are really quite few there.

    3 years!

    Cards available for free for a long introductory period. Cash purses from Day One. Faregates (really nice ones too) that took both the RFID card and paper tickets. Former Token clerks are now roaming customer service agents.

    And while Charlie Card cannot be used on the MBTA commuter rail service yet, the TVM’s can sell a paper ticket that is accepted by the conductors on those commuter trains.

    The biggest “screw-up” in the switch to Charlie Card? A bus (and surface light rail) fare
    box, supplied by their RFID card and TVM contractor, that has a poorly designed coin slot.

    But let’s not focus just on Boston, because Seattle, Chicago, D.C., Atlanta, Montreal and Toronto have all made or are making the transition to RFID in a comparatively short, logical process.

    I am all for RFID cards and the benefits they bring. I have not seen any transit agency world-wide implement their switch to RFID card as “poorly” (I would like to use stronger language) as the TAP program.

    @Ken: Would love to be at Phillipes but the same issues James has, I have.

  • I just now realized something.

    Looking back at previous comments on this issue, it’s clear to me that Erik G.’s position on TAP is much closer to my own position than say, the BusTard or Josef Bray-Ali.

    Some of my previous comments were directed at the board in general, and I seem to have gotten sidetracked into an argument with Erik G. For this, I apologize.

    If more people emphasized the “I’m in favor of switching to RFID cards in general principle, BUT…” attitude and less emphasis on the “…BUT TAP sucks” half of the argument, I’d be considerably less concerned about the state of rail transit advocacy in Los Angeles.

    I still hear too many CUBIC conspiracy theories, too many attempts to paint TAP as “just another thing Metro got wrong”, too few attempts to offer positive suggestions for what can be done better.

    TAP has been moving slowly from 2007 until now, but I can see it start to pick up speed.

    And the fact that Los Angeles County does have a lot of Munis does make a difference. Not only is there MTA bureaucracy to deal with, but Muni fiefdoms.

    Sorry for the long post, but that’s about all I wanted to say (for the time being).

  • A positive suggestion I would offer is that those who can conceive a solution to Metro’s ongoing TAP woes be hired by Metro to replace those whose unflappable incompetence creates situations whereby Metro operators get slapped with false criminal charges of embezzlement, “customers” are forced to pay twice owing to failed TAP cards, and the rest of us waste time complaining about a system that remains far from transparent in its implementation.

  • Erik G.

    My first suggestion would be to rip out the confusing (and H1N1-spreading?) turnstiles if they have any value on the used market (are they leased? Return them!).

    If that is absolutely not possible, remove the turnstile arms so that the remaining turnstile side-wall function as a sorter or lane/funnel. Expensive TAP stanchions as it were.

  • I’m not sure if the TAP turnstiles might help spread the H1N1 virus, but I imagine behavior such as this or this does.

  • Lsweetbeancntr

    I had a bad experience with TAP on the Metro Blue line to 7th and Metro this morning. I had tapped my card at the Long Beach Station and the Imperial/Willimgton station and it came up invalid when scanned at 7th and Metro by a LA Sheriff deputy. I called Tap regional and my card was fine and had all the scans recorded on their system

  • operator X

    He is right. Metro charged drivers with felonies and when the cases were dropped metro made up in house charges which were a bunch of lies just too save face and fire the bus operators. Knowing that no one would care about a bunch of blue collar workers and knowing that the unions helpless they did what they wanted to them.

  • An12tw

    TAP card sucks! Just today, I loaded a value of $5 dollars Day Pass on my TAP card, and then I scanned it at the gateway entry of Purple Line’s Wilshire/Western, it worked. I got off at Union Station, walked outside, switched to a silver line bus, I scanned my TAP when boarding the bus, it worked.  I got off at CSULA bus way.

    After staying at the campus for 2 hours, I went back to CSULA bus way station again, waited for 20 minutes, a silver line bus came, I scanned my TAP when boarding the bus, and this time…it didn’t work!! The bus driver was rude and told me, “hey! your card has no value on it!” I quickly showed her my receipt of purchasing/loading the 5 dollars on my TAP at 2PM this noon, she didn’t even turn her head and said: “I don’t look at receipt! I don’t look at receipt!” I said, “I load a day pass of 5 dollars just around 2 hours ago!” She said, “I don’t look at receipt!”

    Ok, so I got out of that bus!  I then waited for another 20 minutes, another silver line bus came. I scanned my TAP when boarding, this time, it still didn’t work! I was so mad! I showed the bus driver my receipt, he said: “I don’t need to look at your receipt.” I said, “I’ve loaded a 5 dollars value on my TAP just 2 hours ago!” He answered: “I don’t look at your receipt because I believe you did load the value on your card.” Ok, this time, a nice bus driver, I thanked him, but I couldn’t help and asked him, “if all you bus drivers all don’t want to look at the receipt, then what the receipt for?” He looked at me and was like “I don’t know, either.”
    Then, he said, “your card probably expired.” I said, “No way! I purchased this card just last week!” 
    Anyway, I got off at Union Station again, and walked downstairs to switch to Metro rail Purple Line. I scanned my TAP at the gate way entry, and guess what?! It worked!  What a ridiculous T-A-P CARD!
    This was a very bad experience for me! Especially, with that female bus driver who treated me like if I was a liar.  So, “Go Metro”?? From now on, I’m gonna avoid going Metro as much as possible! I can’t imagine what if I loaded a 75 dollars monthly pass value on my TAP, and then when boarding buses and my TAP suddenly doesn’t work?! Metro TAP card sucks!

  • Grownindenair

    This is still a continual hassle for me. One driver even told me what I was trying to do was “illegal.” I tried to call Metro to see what the procedure was so I could tell the drivers that didn’t know and the customer relations woman very rudely hung up on me after I’d been transfered around to different departments. Luckily a wonderful driver was able to explain it to me. She showed me how simple it is.


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